Inside HP's prefab data center

The new way of building data centers in containers

The cutaway section of Hewlett-Packard's latest iteration of a prefabricated modular data center has a space-station-like feel to it.

It's all metal, with thick support beams, and has nothing in common with the shipping containers initially reused by the industry to create self-contained modular data centers.

What HP is calling the EcoPOD (Performance Optimized Data Centers) is all white, inside and out, and is about 25 feet high and 45 feet long, for about 1,000 square feet in total.

There's enough room in its interior for 44 standard, 19-in. racks split into two rows. The 50U racks (one rack unit is 1.75 inches high) almost touch the ceiling.

Bright LED lights make it easy to inspect the equipment, and there's plenty of room to move around the racks to inspect them. The environmental systems are on the roof, like a second floor.

HP had a cutout section of its modular data center on display at its big user conference last week in Las Vegas. The company believes it will sell a lot of these EcoPODs because of the dynamics of the data center industry.

In an Uptime Institute survey last month of 525 data center operators, 36% of the companies reported that they would run out of data center capacity sometime in the next 12 months. The data center association AFCOM found similar responses in its survey of 360 IT managers, with 29% reporting that they are expanding or building a new data center.

Last month, Cisco announced its entry into the data center market, with a 40-foot container.

Some of the first modular systems developed by the industry were essentially reused shipping containers. Google stacked them in its data centers, Lego-like.

A big advantage to the modular approach is the control it allows when it comes to energy use. HP said that the power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio for its data center can be as low as 1.05. PUE is a metric based on total facility power -- including the cooling system, UPS and lighting -- divided by the power used by the IT equipment, including servers, networking and storage hardware. A PUE ratio of 1 is ideal. The advanced cloud computing data centers are near that level, but most raised floor data centers used by corporations are nearly 2.0.

The EcoPOD also has sensors inside and out to monitor environmental conditions.

Wade Vinson, HP's POD chief architect, also built a database that allows users to determine the costs of running the data center in various parts of the country.

For instance, in Los Angeles, using a temperature range of 59 degrees to 89 degrees Fahrenheit, the data center can run on filtered free air, without use of the air conditioning system, for about 95% of the year. One megawatt of use, priced at 8 cents per kilowatt-hour, would cost about $736,000 annually. The EcoPOD can support 2.3 megawatts.

"This is actually designed to help a customer decide what temperature he is going to run it at," Vinson said.

HP believes the main users of its modular data centers will be companies seeking to add capacity.

Christian Wheeler, a IT architect with HP reseller Matrix Integration, estimates that the pods can be bought and installed for about a third of the cost of building a data center from scratch.

A cutaway section of Hewlett-Packard's prefabricated modular data center called the EcoPOD was on display at the company's user conference in Las Vegas last week. (Photo by Patrick Thibodeau)

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

Read more about data center in Computerworld's Data Center Topic Center.

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Patrick Thibodeau

Computerworld (US)
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